Giving back to enrich my community and live my why
Throughout my life, I have been very blessed to have family, friends, and community members who have invested in my personal and professional development to help me become the person I am today. For me, there are a few moments that are snapshots of times when others bestowed immense generosity toward me through challenging moments of my life or have spent countless hours helping me find my professional passion.
Those moments have become a crucial part of how I live my “why.” I am immensely grateful for people in my life who have given time, financial resources, or energy to help guide my future. As a result, serving others and investing in my community has become one of my personal passions. I am fortunate enough to live in Asheville, NC, a city with a small town feel and incredible outdoor experiences. I feel a responsibility to invest in my community to continue to make it a strong, welcoming, and vibrant place to live.
Living in Appalachia, I am frequently reminded of how fortunate I am. Asheville is located in Buncombe County, a primarily rural region in Southern Appalachia. Most communities in Appalachia have a long history of poverty: Buncombe County has 17.1% of its population living below the poverty line, compared to the national average of 15.4%. Because of these things, my “why” is serving my community and investing in others as others have invested in me.
Finding opportunities to volunteer can be quite daunting, especially with a busy schedule as a new practitioner or student pharmacist juggling many responsibilities. A rewarding place to start can be through your local young professionals group. These are commonly associated with the local Chamber of Commerce and are designed help young professionals develop into leaders, as well as connect them to service opportunities within the community. I have the pleasure of serving as the Co-Chair of Community Service for the Young Professionals of Asheville. Through this role, I share the needs of the community with our members. It is rewarding to see others find organizations they believe in and make a difference.
By engaging in a young professionals organization, you can network and develop critical professional relationships, while finding low-commitment opportunities. Many charitable organizations approach us with seasonal needs such as toy drives or one-time commitments at food banks when meals need to be packed. Through this organization, I have developed a strong relationship with a local charitable organization, Asheville Buncombe County Christian Ministries (ABCCM), where I help prepare meals and serve local veterans who are homeless, transitioning to housing, or who are receiving training or education to provide new career opportunities. This has been one of the most enriching experiences of my life. Veterans who have given so much to protect my freedoms are so grateful for a warm meal and welcoming smile.
Another place to find volunteering opportunities is through Hands On, the volunteering branch of United Way. Through this organization, I have had the opportunity to package school meals at our local food bank for impoverished children who would not receive meals otherwise. Every summer, they host a school supply collection drive for children in Buncombe county who cannot afford them. My eyes were opened to the needs of my community through this experience. It is estimated that hundreds of children in the Asheville City School district do not have a family home. Most local branches of United Way Hands On host these events annually and need help with collecting, packing, distributing, and donating materials.
Connecting service to your life
Volunteering is most rewarding when you are investing in something near and dear to your heart. In 2009, I registered with Be The Match as a potential bone marrow donor. I registered after a family member was diagnosed with cancer. Five years later, I received the call that I was a potential match, and ultimately ended up being the best match for that patient.
In October 2014, I gave a young man the gift of hope for a cure through my donation. I not only developed a greater empathy for the patients I care for as they struggle with living with chronic disease, but I developed a desire to help more patients have a hope for a cure.
Since my donation, I have hosted three bone marrow donor drives and registered more than 110 new potential donors. Hosting a drive is a relatively easy process thanks to the staff at Be The Match or Delete Bone Cancer, both of which register donors into the national bone marrow donor registry. These are great opportunities for student organizations to connect a desire to serve with a professional purpose.
For your professional development, too
Community service is also an important professional development tool because residency programs and employers want to see well-rounded candidates who are not only experienced and well-educated, but who also invest in others.
I have developed some valuable networking relationships along my journey. Through my service at Veteran’s Restoration Quarters, I learned that ABCCM also has a free clinic, which is very dependent on volunteer health care practitioners. When I first started serving at ABCCM Medical Clinic, the pharmacist in charge asked about my professional experience. After I told her that I am a community care/ambulatory care faculty member, she asked me to provide medication therapy management visits with patients and much-needed diabetes education in conjunction with the endocrinologist who serves at the clinic. Not only is this a rewarding way to share my knowledge and gifts, but this also allows me to start collecting diabetes education hours in my pursuit of becoming a Certified Diabetes Educator.
Finding opportunities to serve related to pharmacy may be a fulfilling opportunity for you. See if your APhA–ASP Chapter has an upcoming patient care project. Offer to host a patient care project at your internship site or at a rotation site if you see a need. These are valuable opportunities to develop your skills as a patient care provider and may prove to be useful in your pursuit of postgraduate opportunities.
An estimated 33 million Americans were still uninsured in 2014. These patients depend on free clinics, student-run clinics, and charitable organizations to receive care. These settings depend on the volunteer work of health care providers and student learners to provide these services. These are great settings to develop your skills as an educator, interviewer, and clinician. To show your value as a pharmacist, interprofessional opportunities with student nurses, physicians, etc., allow pharmacists to share their knowledge with the health care team.
Volunteering provides a practical and sustainable way to tackle poverty and inequalities that exist within the community. According to Hands On, it is estimated that 1 hour of volunteer time is worth $23.07. When I learned that value at a recent conference, I was blown away. In 2013 alone, 62.8 million Americans volunteered their time, providing 7.9 billion hours of service worth $184 billion. Volunteer time is an immense financial resource for charitable organizations that provide health care, food, shelter, and many other necessities to the impoverished in our communities.
Personally, I serve because I love my community. I want to be a part of its growth and success, and want to help make it a great place to live. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Since you get more joy out of giving joy to others, you should put a good deal of thought into the happiness you are able to give.” I challenge you all to be intentional in your community service. Pick one event you feel personally connected to the purpose and outcome of that event. I promise this experience will be worth it!
I have been in your shoes, too: three exams in one week, journal club presentation the following week, and a patient case due at the end of the week. The time I spent volunteering was always a chance to refresh during busy seasons. The smile of the person you are serving makes it all worth it.